Demand 'through the roof' as Wood Buffalo Food Bank prepares for annual food drive

“It’s going to be really hard. The light at the end of the tunnel is still quite a ways away,” said Dan Edward’s, the food bank’s executive director.

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The Wood Buffalo Food Bank is the busiest it’s ever been in the 12 years that Dan Edwards, its executive director, has been with the organization. Demand hasn’t grown this quickly since the COVID-19 pandemic, while inflation is limiting how much food the organization can buy in bulk.

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The next year will likely be even harder to meet the demands of the community, said Edwards. It’s a scenario that food banks across Canada are reporting. Edwards is hoping this weekend’s 31st annual Syncrude Fod Drive will help the organization meet the needs of the community during the next few months.

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“It’s going to be really hard. The light at the end of the tunnel is still quite a ways away. There’s a lot of things going on right now in the world and how they play out will create circumstances we may have to adapt to,” said Edwards.

“I’m optimistic as I am every year, but I am keenly aware of what the world is like right now. Every day on social media you can see a post of someone saying ‘look at all I could get for $75.’ That’s just the reality people are in these days.”

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Edwards said the food bank is sending out roughly 900 hampers per month. The rural and Indigenous communities outside Fort McMurray are also seeing growth. Conklin’s leaders say one-third to nearly half of the 178 people in the hamlet rely on the food bank.

The COVID-19 pandemic sometimes had moments when the food bank gave out 150 hampers per day, but Edwards called the pandemic “an anomalous moment.” There were grants from governments and organizations like the Red Cross to help with staffing and supplies during the worst of the pandemic.

Alberta announced in early November it would invest $10 million in the province’s food banks to combat the crisis. Canadian grocery prices are up 23 per cent since 2020. Otherwise, Edwards said grants for food banks are getting tight. Inflation means bulk purchases are smaller, even if those prices are subsidized.

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“Our numbers are just through the roof,” said Edwards. “We’re really working hard to meet a need, but it is really taking some time.”

The food bank hopes to raise 80,000 lbs. of food during this weekend’s food drive. Volunteers will be outside every grocery store collecting food and cash donations. Edwards knows this is a challenging goal when so many Canadians are reportedly strapped financially, but he is hopeful.

“I think the community is aware of the needs increasing and people will do what they can to help,” he said.

The Syncrude Food Bank Drive will be held Dec. 1 to 3 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Volunteers can sign up online for shifts. Monetary donations to the food bank can also be made online.

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